Petro de Luanda missed out on the Basketball African League (BAL) title for the second straight time, but forward Aboubakar Gakou remains upbeat about their future in the league.
The Angolan champions finished as runners-up in season 2 of the BAL on a 6-2 record.
Gakou was just an 18-year-old prospect trying to find his space in Petro’s rotation when the Angolan powerhouse won the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in 2015 – the club’s last continental trophy.
When the BAL launched its first season in 2021, Gakou who just had a splendid domestic league – after being named the 2020 Angolan league MVP – thought it was the right opportunity to showcase his talent to the world. But a COVID-19 prognosis forced him out of the bubble-run BAL season in Kigali.
Gakou, who started playing basketball at the age of 17, never threw the towel in. Becoming a BAL player had become a dream of his.
Healthy and highly motivated for the BAL season 2, Gakou embraced Petro’s utmost objective of trying everything in their power to take the BAL trophy home, but, again, things didn’t work out for Petro. “Credit to our opponents,” Gakou admitted in an interview with bal.nba.com when referring to Zamalek and US Monastir – the two teams that prevented Petro from winning a BAL title in the last two seasons.
“It was a tough situation for us to face Zamalek in Cairo [during the Nile Conference], but we lacked focus in critical moments of the game. We turned the ball over far too many times; we forced unnecessary three-point shots. This happened also in the game against Monastir [2022 BAL Final] when three of our players – Yanick Moreira, Jone Pedro, and myself – fouled out late in the game, and they capitalized on our mistakes.”
Were US Monastir and Zamalek better than Petro throughout the BAL season 2?
“I must admit they were better than us because we lost both games to them. Other than that, in terms of roster quality and as an organization, I don’t think they are better than us,” Gakou replied.
“US Monastir were more experienced and had a great team cohesion. It was an evenly matched game though. We won two-quarters of the game, we led until the last 3.5 minutes, but they were more patient to turn things around and win the Championship.” “We’re coming back better and stronger next season. I’m sure the team [Petro] going to put us in the right position to succeed next season,” Gakou said.
The 6-foot-8 Gakou was so impactful in his BAL debut that he ended up being named to the 2022 BAL All-Defensive team.
“I’m really pleased with my contribution to Petro, but as a team, it was a bit disappointing,” Gakou noted.
By winning the Angolan League this season, Petro has the right to represent their country in the next BAL season, something that Gakou can’t wait for.
Even though Petro finished 35-0 in their domestic league, Gakou notes that “it wasn’t as easy as some people try to portray. We worked for it, nothing was given to us, we earned it.”
Asked about BAL’s impact on domestic leagues around the continent, Gakou reminded us that basketball on the continent has changed for the better with the inception of the NBA-FIBA league.
“Our opponents in the domestic league are doing everything they can to qualify for the BAL. This has made the Angolan league even more competitive. The next season is going to be even tougher, but we want to be part of season four of the BAL. Our main rivals (D’Agosto, InterClube) have made serious investments, all of that because of the BAL.”
For a player who only started bouncing the ball at 17, “The BAL is giving African players an exposure never seen before. In the past, African players needed to play in Europe or America to be acknowledged internationally, but not anymore. The BAL brought a new dimension to African basketball. With the BAL, we don’t need to make an extra sacrifice to play in minor leagues in Europe. The BAL is open to the world with international scouts following it closely. To me, this is the way forward for African basketball.”
There have been some outstanding performers in the BAL season 2, but for Gakou only five players caught his eye: “Ater Majok, Carlos Morais, Childe Dundao, Gerson Lukeny Goncalves, and Yanick Moreira were my top-5 team. I would be the sixth man,” he pointed out.